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Do any of you come across this conundrum?

I was looking for some music by a specific composer online. There are multiple books available, but no sample pages provided. My only clue as to the difficulty of these pieces is the comments, which is of course unreliable. Without looking at or hearing the music (there are no recordings available for this particular example) it is pretty impossible to know how easy or hard a given piece of music REALLY is. What's easy for an accomplished pianist is difficult for a less experienced one. Also, what exactly makes a piece difficult? There are those who struggle with arpeggios, or scales, or memorization, or phrasing, or whatever. There are of course books of music whose actual title might be "Easy to Intermediate pieces for Adults" ort whatever, but HOW easy, HOW intermediate??? Can I rely on that really?

What I think would be great would be some sort of relatively objective difficulty scale, say from 1-10, and each level on the scale would have a handful of sample pieces representing that level of difficulty. So maybe Satie's Gymnopedie No. 1 or the C major prelude in Well Tempered Clavier would be like maybe a 2, and the Hammerklavier a 10. I wish every published piece of music had a number on it indicating its JDS Score (Jim's Difficulty Scale). (Bartok's Mikrokosmos is a good work to bring up here because it's sequenced by difficulty.)

Do any of you have experiences with this, where you have a good way to determine a piece's difficulty? I think the basic correlation between black on the page and difficulty only takes one so far. A 12-tone piece consisting of quarter notes is harder than a Philip Glass piece with a zillion sixteenths, for example. In most cases you actually have to sit down with a piece and go through it, but of course by that time you've already brought it into the home and likely purchased it, so kind of too late.


My work is available at https://greenmonkeyrecords.com/jim-of-seattle/
Also on Spotify, Apple, all those subscription places under Jim of Seattle.

I have a website I never remember to update: www.jimofseattle.com

Also jkoseattle@comcast.net
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Alfred books (www.alfred.com) have sample pages. They even have extended categories: early elementary, elementary, late elementary - early intermediate, intermediate, late intermediate - early advanced, and advanced.

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If there's a recording, you can usually get a rough estimate based on that. Of course this is assuming some observation/playing by ear skills which aren't that hard to obtain. You can also check out Henle grades if possible.

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There are books (remember those?!?) with lists of pieces, all ranked by order of difficulty.

Here are the two that I know and use:

The Pianist's Guide to Standard Teaching and Performance Literature by Jane Magrath. This does not include difficulties beyond 3 part inventions or easy Beethoven Sonatas, since it is aimed at teaching repertoire. 10 levels of difficulty.

Guide to the Pianist's Repertoire by Maurice Hinson. Over 1000 pages - very comprehensive. Hinson passed away not long ago, but it's now in the fourth edition with a new co-editor. Only 4 broad categories of difficulty. I like that method, since the difficulty of a particular piece is very dependent on what you know and what you have played before.

Sam

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One can also consult graded Syllabi of various conservatories. A recommended choice is the Piano Syllabus of Royal Conservatory of Music (Toronto), particularly because there is such a wide list of pieces for each grade. Moreover, each grade is divided into various historic periods: Baroque, Classical, Romantic, etc., etc.


RCM Piano Syllabus

Regards,


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For almost any piece you're interested in, one can find the score for free on IMSLP and other similar sites. One can hear a performance of maybe 99% of the piano rep on YouTube. Finally, as others have mentioned there are numerous online sites and books that rate a piece's difficulty.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
For almost any piece you're interested in, one can find the score for free on IMSLP and other similar sites.

Depending on one's musical interests, this isn't necessarily true. There is a great deal available on IMSLP, but many 20th century compositions are still under copyright and not available through IMSLP (or legally available for free anywhere). For myself, I love the piano music of Samuel Barber and have been working recently on one of the Excursions. His work is most definitely not available on IMSLP. I also love Latin American piano music, and I have been listening to quite a bit of it lately. Some of this music may be considered more obscure, but Manuel Ponce is not particularly obscure, and his music is also not available on IMSLP (there are, again, copyright issues). Ernesto Lecuona is very well known in Latin America, and while some of his most popular compositions are available on IMSLP, he was an extremely prolific composer, and the IMSLP entries are very limited. For composers that are less well known (such as the 19th c Mexican composers Melesio Morales, Aniceto Ortega, and Guadalupe Olmedo), the imslp offerings are so sparse as to be practically non-existent. All of these composers have had works recorded that are not available on IMSLP. It is very difficult to find sheet music for much of this, as it has been out of print for a very long time.

The OP (Jim) states that there are no recordings of the work he is interested in. Given this statement, I think there is a very good chance that it is not available on IMSLP, and he will have to buy the sheet music if he is at all interested in exploring it.

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Originally Posted by Sgisela
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
For almost any piece you're interested in, one can find the score for free on IMSLP and other similar sites.

Depending on one's musical interests, this isn't necessarily true. There is a great deal available on IMSLP, but many 20th century compositions are still under copyright and not available through IMSLP (or legally available for free anywhere). For myself, I love the piano music of Samuel Barber and have been working recently on one of the Excursions. His work is most definitely not available on IMSLP. I also love Latin American piano music, and I have been listening to quite a bit of it lately. Some of this music may be considered more obscure, but Manuel Ponce is not particularly obscure, and his music is also not available on IMSLP (there are, again, copyright issues). Ernesto Lecuona is very well known in Latin America, and while some of his most popular compositions are available on IMSLP, he was an extremely prolific composer, and the IMSLP entries are very limited. For composers that are less well known (such as the 19th c Mexican composers Melesio Morales, Aniceto Ortega, and Guadalupe Olmedo), the imslp offerings are so sparse as to be practically non-existent. All of these composers have had works recorded that are not available on IMSLP. It is very difficult to find sheet music for much of this, as it has been out of print for a very long time.

The OP (Jim) states that there are no recordings of the work he is interested in. Given this statement, I think there is a very good chance that it is not available on IMSLP, and he will have to buy the sheet music if he is at all interested in exploring it.
Excuse me for off-topic, I would like to get acquainted with Latin American piano music more closely, too. What you think is the best place to search for the scores of it?

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One time I had to resort to interlibrary loan to get a score that I wanted. You could try searching the library catalog of music schools like Eastman (Sibley library). If they have it you can arrange for a loan from your local library.

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Schott and Henle assign difficulty grades to their pieces.
Schott from 1 to 6, Henle from 1 to 9. Bigger numbers meaning higher difficulty.
Jugend musiziert also grades pieces like that; but I don't know if it's available online.
Same for ABRSM.


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Pianosyllabus.com shows all exam board gradings


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
"I never dreamt with my own two hands I could touch the sky" - Sappho

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Originally Posted by Jim of Seattle
Do any of you have experiences with this, where you have a good way to determine a piece's difficulty?

I struggle with this a lot. I spend quite some time looking at the score, trying to find out how difficult a piece would be for me. For instance, am I familiar with its tonality? Does it have chords that I am familiar with or not? If not, are there many repeats, or repeats with variations, or is every measure unique? How fast does it need to be played?

Still, I won't know until I play the piece, and I can be surprised both positively and negatively.


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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Excuse me for off-topic, I would like to get acquainted with Latin American piano music more closely, too. What you think is the best place to search for the scores of it?

As this is off topic, I’ll send you a PM.

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Originally Posted by Animisha
Originally Posted by Jim of Seattle
Do any of you have experiences with this, where you have a good way to determine a piece's difficulty?

I struggle with this a lot. I spend quite some time looking at the score, trying to find out how difficult a piece would be for me. For instance, am I familiar with its tonality? Does it have chords that I am familiar with or not? If not, are there many repeats, or repeats with variations, or is every measure unique? How fast does it need to be played?

Still, I won't know until I play the piece, and I can be surprised both positively and negatively.


I try to look at the most difficult section of the piece first. If I can learn that, I often know the remainder is manageable. However, I can still be surprised: I have one piece I started several years ago and can play it well EXCEPT for four measures. I will probably eventually drag it back out— but I’m still disgusted that I got so very far and couldn’t finish it. .
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Jim of S

I suggest you contact the publisher, explain your issue and ask for a sample of the hardest part of the piece, even if it’s only two lines or a half page.

I would think they want to sell music so this is reasonable.

Failing that, just ask how technically good a pianist one has to be to play it: good amateur, conservatoire graduate, professional?

Good luck.

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Originally Posted by terentius
Jim of S

I suggest you contact the publisher, explain your issue and ask for a sample of the hardest part of the piece, even if it’s only two lines or a half page.

I would think they want to sell music so this is reasonable.

Failing that, just ask how technically good a pianist one has to be to play it: good amateur, conservatoire graduate, professional?

Good luck.


What I might find as the most difficult section might be easy for you — and you might find something else to be the most challenging. I cannot imagine for a common sale that a publisher would do anything at all

If you really need to explore the difficulty, get the music through inter library loan and try it out.

I buy the majority of my music used so my cost to try it out is generally lower.


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
"I never dreamt with my own two hands I could touch the sky" - Sappho

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It's certainly an issue with online sheet music purchases: they don't want to show you the whole music in case you screenshot it and they miss the sale; you need to know how accurate/manageable their transcription is before buying.

A grading system for rep outside of exam syllabi would be very difficult to make accurate or helpful as everyone has different challenges/obstacles in their playing. Maybe, in this instance, you can contact the publishers and ask directly, or maybe a music shop can advise you? (I've often called music shops to enquire about what is in a book before buying it)

If it's not expensive then maybe take the plunge and, if it is too difficult, at least you have something to work towards.

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Just ask people on this forum if they know the pieces and they will give some feedback.

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Originally Posted by Jim of Seattle
Do any of you have experiences with this, where you have a good way to determine a piece's difficulty? I think the basic correlation between black on the page and difficulty only takes one so far. A 12-tone piece consisting of quarter notes is harder than a Philip Glass piece with a zillion sixteenths, for example. In most cases you actually have to sit down with a piece and go through it, but of course by that time you've already brought it into the home and likely purchased it, so kind of too late.
Personally, the difficulty of a piece (whether from its appearance in the score, or how it sounds when I hear it) never deters me if I want to have a look at it. I just buy it.

At the very least, I'm helping the composer to make his/her living (if he/she is still alive) and I have the score to admire (though I prefer to play it wink ) and sight-read, even if I never make the effort to learn it properly for whatever reason. It isn't money wasted: there have been lots of music scores that I bought over the years which I only got round to learning in my, er, more mature years whistle.

Not to mention scores which I was only able to learn years later, when my technical skills actually caught up with my aspirations........


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Originally Posted by Sgisela
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
For almost any piece you're interested in, one can find the score for free on IMSLP and other similar sites.

Depending on one's musical interests, this isn't necessarily true. There is a great deal available on IMSLP, but many 20th century compositions are still under copyright and not available through IMSLP (or legally available for free anywhere). For myself, I love the piano music of Samuel Barber and have been working recently on one of the Excursions. His work is most definitely not available on IMSLP. I also love Latin American piano music, and I have been listening to quite a bit of it lately. Some of this music may be considered more obscure, but Manuel Ponce is not particularly obscure, and his music is also not available on IMSLP (there are, again, copyright issues). Ernesto Lecuona is very well known in Latin America, and while some of his most popular compositions are available on IMSLP, he was an extremely prolific composer, and the IMSLP entries are very limited. For composers that are less well known (such as the 19th c Mexican composers Melesio Morales, Aniceto Ortega, and Guadalupe Olmedo), the imslp offerings are so sparse as to be practically non-existent. All of these composers have had works recorded that are not available on IMSLP. It is very difficult to find sheet music for much of this, as it has been out of print for a very long time.

The OP (Jim) states that there are no recordings of the work he is interested in. Given this statement, I think there is a very good chance that it is not available on IMSLP, and he will have to buy the sheet music if he is at all interested in exploring
it.
IMSLP is not the only site with tons of music. You can find many score by Ponce here:
http://waltercosand.com/CosandScores/

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